Today’s Temperature

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Cloudy. Looks like showers; maybe even thunderstorms. Temperature: 65 degrees. 

Every morning since the day I met Ally, and our relationship lasted for over 20 years until she died of cancer, she recorded the weather with a ballpoint pen in her six-by-eight inch journals. Out of the classic, lined, hardcover journals, she had one inscribed with the following quote, Let your faith be bigger than your fear. – Hebrews 13:6

Ally was not a religious woman. She didn’t go to church or ever mention God. Instead, she lived a message of love and as a member of the local garden club, she spent endless volunteer hours helping to keep the town green and gardens growing pretty. Ally also dedicated her life to working at a local wildlife rehabilitation facility that aided birds and other wildlife.

Strong wind gusts. Dry, relative humidity. Temperature: 72 degrees.

One day I realized that in the same manner that people wake up in the morning and recite prayers and read spiritual material, Ally recorded the weather. It acted as her touchstone for the day. It gave her a larger perspective on life, helped deflate her ego and discover her true self. In other words, it ironed out her fear and made her fearless to float forward fearlessly into the thunderstorms and hail of life. Amen!

On the topic of weather and prayers, I call to mind my dear friend Brian. I’ve written about him before, but as a refresher, he identified with Native American spiritual beliefs. Once when we were driving in his truck from a weekend in Canada, we were suddenly caught in a monsoon storm. Joining other travelers, Brian veered his truck over into the emergency lane and parked. Seconds after he shut the engine off, he bolted outside and moved in front of the truck. Right before my eyes, he lifted his head and outstretched his arms while the rain beat down on him like the sights and sounds of linear drumming.

“Great Spirit! Great Spirit!”

It turned out to be the man’s prayer of thanks for every possible thing imaginable, including what others, most times, perceive as inclement weather, Brian saw as a gift.

Ally, like Brian, saw the weather, regardless of whether it was a mean storm or a mild spring day, in the same grateful way because she understood that it meant another sunrise of life occurred. This insight enabled her to charge forward into the day with faith. In fact, anytime I saw her, even after she received her diagnosis, she never stopped recording the weather and continued to act like a big, fat cloud bursting with an “Amen!” kind of jubilation.

Author and MD, Robert Eliot said, If you can’t fight and you can’t flee, flow.

In this way, you can switch out the word FAITH for the word FLOW. The concepts are connected because when you flow through life, you have faith in it, and you gain a deeper awareness and thereby, find a greater meaning in it.

Rabindranath Tagore, a Bengali polymath who worked as a poet, writer, playwright, composer, philosopher, social reformer and painter, said: Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storms, but to add color to my sunset sky.

Heads lifted skyward, arms overstretched, Brian and Ally looked past the clouds and storms to pinpoint the colors of the sunrise as well as sunset.

Patchy fog. Hot and humid. Temperature: easy, breezy, flowing forward fearlessly.

Faith Muscle

Chances

And sometimes the “leap” doesn’t necessarily have to be anything more rigorous than a day basking inside the sunny side of the soul.

Faith Muscle

Be at Peace

My strongest walk of faith is when I listen to my inner voice that comes to me on the wings of my inner spirit and NOT society’s real-time GPS that “directs, tracks, routes and maintains the fleet.”

Be at peace today. Steal a moment of quiet for yourself in today’s bossy, noisy world. You may be astounded at what you hear!

Faith Muscle

Winning the🏆Real Prize🏆

Connecticut Press Club Award Banquet, July, 27, 2021

In all my days, I’ve arrived late, on time, but never early for a function. When my daughter, her godmother, who is my best friend, and I arrived for the Connecticut Press Club (CPC) awards banquet, we had 20 minutes to burn before the banquet started.

Last week, I wrote about my surprise when I realized I won the 2020 CPC second place for my blog post. After some arm-twisting from my daughter, I agreed to attend the awards banquet. What sealed the deal, as I also previously mentioned, was when I auspiciously discovered an inexpensive but beautiful turquoise necklace at a local store that seemed custom made for my black pantsuit that I planned to wear for the event.

Turquoise Necklace

“Turquoise, focus on turquoise.”

I know this is a nontraditional mantra, but repeating these four words helped me release most of my anxiety and PTSD symptoms on the day of the event. In my mind, all the negative, black thoughts were switched out. In their place rolled out a mellow turquoise the color of a New Mexico sky, moments after sunrise, very much akin to many of the photos that my friend sister Anne shoots.

What I am now aware of, that I was unaware of before, is that individuals suffering from mental health challenges cannot employ a mantra to slay their demon minds. Their demon minds slay them. For my son, this meant, outside of his workweek, total isolation.

I remember shortly before our family tragedy, I tried to help a close friend who was undergoing a tremendous amount of anxiety. I advised her to incorporate self-talk into her daily routine. Frustrated, she replied, yelling, “Self-talk doesn’t work for me.”

It was the first time that I started to comprehend the extent of individual variations of mental illness. Still, slaying my private demons decades ago, I fell into the group of positive psychology proponents. I believed that if you incorporate strategies like self-talk, mantras, positive affirmations and the like, it can help turn on a fluorescent light inside a darkened mindset. “Attitude adjustment” was the core belief. Now I know, you have to deal with mental illness before dealing with the attitude. In other words, if your mind is programmed differently as my son’s was, void of windows that allow the healing light to flow, there is no magic mantra to pull from a magician’s hat.

So, lucky me, last Tuesday evening, I possessed the mental clearance to leave the safe confines of my home. Upon arrival, wearing my turquoise necklace and saying my turquoise mantra, I can’t get enough of the turquoise sky crowning the Greenwich Water Club in Cos Cob, CT, a neighborhood in the town of Greenwich. The establishment is a private dinner/recreational club with an emphasis on water-related sports and boating activities for members, I gather, who never have and never will have to poke their rubber gloved hand into the cool water of a ceramic goddess and wash her majesty, a toilet.

Greenwich Water Club, Cos Cob, CT

As we make our way through the nearly full parking lot, the dust and sand from the spew of pebbles seems to undermine the club’s reputation. The clubhouse building ahead is impressive, but not imposing, perched on the Mianus River. The grounds are overrun by children and adolescents rather than adults. Members eat, swim at the built-in pool and, most obvious, relax, wane with the waning summer’s day that has turned into early evening. It is a Tuesday, my least favorite day of the week, but the sound of the children’s light laughter feels like a massage targeting just the right pressure points on my brain.

Inside a reserved space upstairs from the main restaurant, we are greeted with friendly CPC members who dispense name tags and apparently have no qualms about our early arrival. I scan the other name tags on the table, spotting one familiar one, Amy Oestreicher. It is a young woman and, although I haven’t been on Facebook for a number of months, a Facebook friend and fellow writer, not to mention artist and actress.  If given an opportunity, I make a mental note to approach her after she arrives.

Our trio nests in three leather, oversized chairs. I am stationed like a cut-down tree stump. I am there, but not really. My daughter prods me, “Go network.” Fortunately, it is the crowd I’ve grown up with: writers, journalist, PR professionals and all creative types that evenly pump my blood flow. I can do this. I rise and converse with a man who turns out to be the contest director. He informs me that the blogging category was fiercely competitive. Boo-yah! Ego found after being lost through 20 months of grief, isolation and sheer trepidation.

Later, in my seat, CPC officials, along with the evening’s emcee, award-winning journalist and TV personality, Mercedes Velgot, graciously greet us.

Before the presentation, though, I catch the eye of a woman directly across the way, who is with a dapper-looking gentleman. I smile and quietly admire the bright colors she wears.

“Do you know her?”

“No,” I reply to my daughter.

The presentation begins as Mercedes takes her place behind the podium, svelte and towering in a little black dress that elevates the word “perfect” to a higher level.

I’ve attended a vast array of awards presentations through the years and, overall, they are boring, not due to monotone speeches, but because the ego inflation makes my gut heavy, like it’s a soda can depository.

In total contrast, Mercedes’ opening remarks are succinct but packed with the kind of compassion, empathy, and honesty that makes you feel like you are listening to a dear friend’s counsel in your living room. The theme, of all things, is how every cloud has a silver lining, and how we need to learn to discover it.

She goes on to elucidate the many COVID-19 challenges of the prior year and how our world suffered in the eye of death, illness and separation. She also explains how her nine-year, award-winning travel show was canceled. Amazingly, too, she speaks about her voluntarism in different capacities during the height of COVID-19 as a front line worker, including training as vaccination assistant.

“This year has really taught us to be resilient. It’s taught us how to pivot. It’s taught us how to be grateful for each and every day. “

In addition, she credits prayer and “spiritual strength to persevere through all of life’s challenges.”

And adds, “Here’s to all of you … your talents in finding beauty in the human spirit through your pens. Keep writing and keep looking for your silver linings.”

I am blown over by her loving kindness and if the mind demons kidnapped me, instead of sitting in this lovely room with an extraordinary group of people, I would be alone in my bedroom faced with a three-D movie screen in the maniac projection room of my mind in morbid reflection of things best forgotten.

As if listening to the awesome speaker and watching other award recipients claim prizes wasn’t enough, when the award is announced for Amy Oestreicher, Mercedes informs the crowd that the recipient’s parents are present to accept the posthumous award for their daughter.

Posthumous award? How can Amy be dead? She was so young, talented – intent on living.

Question your thinking. I remember one of Mercedes suggestions during her opening remarks. Question your thinking. Self-centered was I to think I would be the one and only griever among the group. The one and only pain-ridden person.
Immediately, after the ceremony, I offer my condolences to Amy’s parents whose daughter died at the age of 34 from medical complications only four months prior. The grieving dad, it is obvious, is the mom’s anchor. Mom is a ball of fire. In spite of living through out-of-order death, the mom is an optimist. Her mission is to spend her life honoring Amy’s memory. The mom’s positivity is contagious and my faith-o-meter brims over.

My brilliant daughter advises me that I should mirror the grieving mom’s optimism. She winks her eye when she asks, confidently, “What are the odds of you meeting her and her husband on the same night you win an award?”

I nod my head. Is it coincidence or fate?

Looking back, the entire evening is lifted high in my memory by a faith muscle, fueled by the encouragement and support of my blogging community (thank you all!) and my close friends and, of course, propelled by my spitfire daughter.

ME
Connecticut Press Club Award Banquet, July, 27, 2021

To sum it up, I recall a well-known mantra that is intended to help anxiety: “Soham,” meaning “I am that” or “I am the universe.”

The idea reinforces the knowledge that I am one tiny brush stroke in a massive piece of artwork, a mixed-media, collage of life. The awards banquet last Tuesday is significant in my life because it reminds me of my insignificance. It reminds me how I can comfortably take a seat in the arena of life because whether we are in Cos Cob, Connecticut, or Canton, Ohio, or south of the Congo River, there is a designated space for everyone of us if we are wired properly to see it.

I am reminded, too, that no matter how stationary I am at any given moment, time is fleeting. Nothing remains the same. Everything is temporary. One day we are there, sitting. The next day “Poof!” we disappear. Paradoxically, as if on a magnificent piece of artwork, all parts, seen and unseen, make a whole, a never-ending composition of triumph.

It is all there is and ever will be. Right now as my own life fleets by, I can’t stop time, but I don’t have to wait until it is too late to say and claim it: I am that.

Faith Muscle

Prayer House

Photo by Bastian Riccardi on Pexels.com

Every night for four years, with few exceptions, my dearest friend Pat, a former religious sister, now layperson member of the Carmelite Order, and I prayed for ourselves as well as dozens of other people … Mark, Sarah, Rebecca. As the years passed, we squeezed in new names … Joey and Anthony …. We squinted to read the growing names and intentions on the list that was about the size of an index card.

Always topping the list were the names of my two children and ending the list were the names of those who had passed over.

For the first two years, we prayed on the telephone. The last two years after Pat moved in with me, we congregated at our kitchen table. We prayed for health, wealth, romance, reconciliation or safety for those near and dear. No one could have convinced me that our prayers were left unanswered. Jobless friends obtained job offers. Sick friends became well again … at our table, it was as if we ordered from an a la carte menu … two burgers and one large order of fries, no special sauce. Bottomless bounty was served!

In 2018, we witnessed a miracle. A man in his early 30s, whom we did not know, but heard about from our priest, was run over by a car at a busy intersection. He survived the crash, but he slipped into a coma. Odds of recovery, grim. Through the grapevine we also heard, he was the only son to a mother who had recently immigrated to America. At that time, I could not imagine if something that horrific happened in my cozy,  little life. I prayed, “Please God, help this young man. We ask a miracle … if it is your Holy Will.”

.… “If it is your Holy will.” We capped off each prayer this way, because it reconfirmed our humble servant status. It reminded us that we were not the creators of this world and powerless to perform God’s work. Looking back, I was only kidding myself. When that young man came to consciousness and recovered, everyone called it “a miracle.” My egotistic self knew it was through the specific prayers we prayed at the kitchen table night after night for a month that he was alive and well.

As I said earlier, my young adult children always topped off the prayer list. Year after year, our intentions for them were consistent: good physical and mental health, good jobs and good spouses. For my son, there was always one constant request: help him find a friend.

Week after week, month after month, I knew we were getting closer to our intentions being granted. After we concluded our 20- or 30-minute prayer sessions, Pat gently placed the list under a statue in the kitchen of St. Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus. In the Catholic Church, he is recognized as the patron saint of workers. The statue is about three and a half inches long, and the saint is depicted lying on his side, sleeping. The reason behind the supine pose is that it is believed that an angel spoke to St. Joseph in a dream on two occasions to give him much needed direction. We liked to believe that every night while we slept, he “worked hard” and assisted us with his powerful intercession, and obtained for us from the Divine Son all spiritual blessings, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. We recited specific St. Joseph prayers and they sealed my concrete-like faith.

On the night before our personal tragedy blew our little bubble world into smithereens leaving the hot shrapnel embedded into every crevice of my mind, heart and spirit, we recited our routine prayers. Less than 15 hours later, I laid on the floor like the St. Joseph statue. Of course I was orbits away from being in the state of placid rest. I pleaded, beseeched and begged the invisible air to change what had occurred, my body in a convulsion state. And, so it was. The unspeakable and unimaginable from that day forward was a hard blow and, for me living with grief means crawling, because I feel like I carry 900 pounds of hot shrapnel day after day, week after week, over 17 months later.

I was the one who did not have another prayer request left in me, and Pat and I haven’t prayed since that fateful night. Memories of the last time praying together, and I can still visualize the lit candle dancing around the kitchen, coating our faces within a warm glow, and our spirits free to cavort with the frolicking candlelight.

As my lips fall to silence, Pat, with her religious zeal, that I so admire, has not slackened one bit in her prayer life. If anything, her prayer time has accelerated. For me, right now, I am trying to reckon with my powerlessness and I just listen. Be and leave the BElieving alone, because I don’t want to spark my ego into thinking I have any control on the ways of the world. Just as I possessed no control over the young man who baffled science and fully recovered from a near-fatal car accident. In the same way, I possess no control over my son’s unspeakable set of circumstances.

As a trained journalist, I always wanted the know the answers. Now, I don’t even know the questions to ask. I just know that I don’t mind seeing the statue of St. Joseph asleep and allowing it to remain in our kitchen. He looks comfortable, but, strangely, lonely. Sometimes I have a hankering to say, “Pat! Where’s the list? Can we pray?”

Instead, I remain silent. I can’t fathom another disappointment or letdown. Now, I automatically take cover and duck and don’t stand in the way of life. Especially at night, I reckon with the feeling of loneliness and stark silence in the kitchen, even with the background music. I use what remaining energy I have to BElieve the sun will rise, and I don’t have to lift a finger to help that fireball to ignite.

Faith Muscle

Good Fortune Prayer

The following post is a guest post from my son’s Godmother Patricia Grassi. She is one of the most faithful women I’ve ever met and serves as an inspiration to me always.

Chervony, the firey orange and tan long-haired cat was showing signs of distress.
Saturday, June 13, he stopped drinking and eating. The expression on his sweet
face resembled a stone. His eyes appeared overcast as he stared into space.
Maybe this is the way eighteen-year-old cats act before they die. His
disappearamce into the neighbor’s tall bushes the following day also pushed us into
thinking he wanted to go into the woods to die.

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Early Monday morning, before Stacy called his vet, I was sitting at the kitchen
table, drinking a cup of coffee while engulfed in sadness. Like the distant note of
a songbird, a feeling of hope broke through my sorrow. I sensed a lightness within
me as I turned to my left and saw Marshall standing in front of the dishwasher,
smiling at me. I knew intuitively that he was a vision–a momentary gift from
heaven to bring me comfort and perhaps a message regarding Chervony. He was
dressed in dark blue jeans and a darker blue T-shirt. Everything about him
glowed, especially his face, which was clean-shaven.

Yes, he was happy, but he particularly wanted me to tell his mother that he loved her very much. As he slowly faded, I was struck by the fact that he was the embodiment of all the attributes of God, such as love, kindness, goodness, wisdom and especially joy, just to name a few. dark-clouds-173926_1920

After he left, I didn’t know exactly what Chervony’s situation was, but that whatever happened, it would be all right.*

*And it WAS alright. Chevony was found sick and with a fever, but post-vet care, he is making a full recovery.

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Faith Muscle

To My Brother in Heaven

But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found. Luke 15:32

It brings me great strength and joy to know you are in the loving arms of Jesus. Down here on earth, your arms were in the shackles of a disease that you did not want. I was four years old when I first tried to help you, but I was at a loss, wanting to contain your Niagara Falls amount of throw-up in a tiny pink cup.

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From that day forward, I felt like I trailed behind you through life, big brother, with a tiny pink plastic cup that could never contain the monster-sized remnants inside.

I won’t deny, that when you were alive, I spent a lot of time fantasizing about a replacement brother. The kind of big brother that takes you places above ground and not underground. The kind of brother who views life is lived on a rich, varied and textured terrain generous in rose-smelling opportunities. Like I told you a gazillion times, I never cared about your version of life lived in a flat-line region where the point of it all is survival.

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No doubt about it. We spent a lot of time in the mud hole: bickering, arguing and sometimes having a knock-down, drag-out fight. We landed in plenty of fox holes, too, where our prayers were “God Help!” Succinct ones, but as fervent as the long, formal prayers.

Seventeen years later, and I darn well know that if given the chance for a replacement brother or you, there is no doubt to the one I would choose. I attribute my choice to you. Underneath your disease. Underneath the monster. Buried under a mountain of hurt, you were one of the greatest men I’ve ever known. Not because you were handsome, strong, generous, compassionate, highly intuitive and intelligent and a war hero to boot, but because you knew that everything, no matter how utterly defective, stained, sinned or doomed, could root, grow and live under one condition: that it is planted in a bedrock of unconditional love.

Thank you for leaving me this bedrock of a legacy. To allow myself to be vulnerable, trust and carry the message tirelessly to those who suffer and those who need strength. Most of all, thanks for being my Angel Michael, right next to Archangel Michael, as I trudge this road of happy destiny.

Dear Big Brother in heaven, I can’t wait to see you in heaven someday. Feel your arms around me again, and see the sober twinkle in your eyes, when you radiate His love and gently whisper, “Peace.”

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

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Faith Muscle

Brick and Mortar 2019

I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth.                                                           Angel4 Psalm 34:1

Brick Wall

During this past season’s midnight Mass, I found Christmas, but it wasn’t solely in the Mass. I found Christmas in a young father who sat in the pew in front of us. His eyes glowed in adoration of his special needs toddler. Despite the fact that the child squirmed, gurgled and occasionally jolted, for over two hours, the father cradled her with undivided attention and devotion. In the face of challenge, his face exuded peace, contentment and joy. His one-word response to his child: Christmas!

This upcoming New Year, when I am faced with challenges, I hope to respond in the same spirit of Christmas, no matter if it is in the dead of winter or heat of summer. In other words, no matter how my faith is tested, I have memorized my response that is so apparent in the father’s life that I encountered at church. “I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise shall be always in my mouth.” (Psalm 34:1)

Brick Wall2

Funny, how my relationship with God is sometimes one-sided, and I think He should ONLY bless me. Blessing the Lord at all times and praising him always is like laying a foundation of brick-like faith while the Lord spreads his love in the form of mortar.

Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

 

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Faith Muscle

 

January Reflections: A Question a day to deepen your faith (31)

Never mind New Year’s resolutions. Angel4 Wrap your mind around January  reflections: A question a day every day for the next 30 days to deepen your faith.

31. What did I learn after a month of asking questions about faith? mustard seed

 

Plain & Simple: I  have mustard seed faith, but I have a mammoth God.  

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Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

 

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Faith Muscle

January Reflections: A Question a day to deepen your faith (30)

Never mind New Year’s resolutions. Angel4 Wrap your mind around January  reflections: A question a day every day for the next 30 days to deepen your faith.

30. Doubting your faith? 

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If you are doubting your faith, you are not alone. When Pope Francis was asked if he every had any doubts, he replied, “Well …, I have so many, eh! I have so many … Of course, we all sometimes have doubts!”

When doubt sets in, realize you’re in good company!questions-1922476_1920Stay tuned!…until next time…walk by faith not by sight!

 

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Faith Muscle